"For a long time, [translations] were offered as part of a bigger landscape: this is what ‘Johnny Foreigner’ is doing - take it or leave it.
That’s what shows in Frank O’Hara’s great poem of 1959, The Day Lady Died, when he buys himself a hamburger and a malted and ‘an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets/ in Ghana are doing these days’. It existed, therefore, in a reduced way, it was. (In many other languages, by contrast, English exists, and is, and is barely reduced: in the 1960s for instance, a hugely influential little volume called Mittagessengedichte was published, that enabled German readers to see what Frank O’Hara had done.)
Subsequently, foreign titles had something of the status of evidence – false, misleading evidence, albeit; there was something of an alibi about it – an increasingly mendacious and half-hearted assertion that such things were still part of the general scene, were still being cultivated. There was the token translation, like the token poetry list or the token volume of belles-lettres. You saw it and were supposed to say, ‘Look, it has come through.’
It was a zoo (not, alas, in the colloquial sense of the phrase), where you could see the Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Günter Grass, the Milan Kundera, the Harry Mulisch, the great beasts, the kings of the jungle; again, as in a zoo, there was something a little stale and old-fashioned about it, the animals were getting on, they were grumpy and neglected, they kicked off and weren’t replaced, there was little sign of any fresh blood.
And now? The foreign novel is a novelty. It’s a chimera or a yeti or a unicorn (the beast that never was, as Rainer Maria Rilke describes it). Over time, it’s changed from being a cornerstone to a decorative pillar to a perplexing functionless stump somewhere. It’s published in a bodiless way, as though it came out of some (English-language) text-tube: people don’t read Peter Høeg out of an engagement with Denmark, or Jostein Gaarder to see what the writers in Norway are doing these days!
There is something resolutely and manufacturedly singular about the books that are translated these days – one-offs like stumps and yetis and chemical clouds – pornographic or quasi-pornographic oddities. Translation has largely degenerated to a depository for the abstruse and the shameless. As such, it is a caricature of ‘abroad’. And this is at a time when our well-being, perhaps our very survival, depends on a full and accurate representation."[Longer excerpt can be read here.]
the poetry who ran
the poet was feeling doubtful about the state of poetry and attended a meeting and then the poetry was in a meeting many poetries together and the poetry was in sentences and questions and the poetry rose from the dead without ever having died or is this some sort of joke the poetry thought quickly descending the cliff and the poet would gather eggs from the cliff face and inside the eggs were words and the poet would suck ’em out and the poetry would broom through the skies and attend the meeting and the poetry had sat down to laugh in a sentence at a question and then they had recess and the poetries swung from the chandeliers and were sober and would fall into the redwine-glasses becoming their own rubbish and the poetry would slurp wine through a pink laststraw and floated on ice in the ocean and you’re all a bunch of pinko faggots the poetry jabbered calmly and haughtily and the word froze and everybody pretended they didn’t hear and the poetry broadly smiling went into hiding and I am above your petty bickering said the poetry and got all bummed out down in the straw which became shaped like a poetry or am I maybe an international medium of expression sounded up out of the straw or am I a novel or some punk-fad or a bird who flew or video performance art or am I a painting or an internally rhymed redondilla or a motorbike or a meeting or am I a painting or long or short or propaganda or divine inspiration am I a movie am I perhaps prose am I perhaps rhymed prose the poetry hissed and waded in its glow-in-the-dark rubber boots through poetic rain and fell into deep thinking splashing poetrily from dirty puddles and the poetry knew there was no question there had to be a question or am I supposed to be found in a definition so that the poets can find themselves these poor wretches and the rain became more poetic at the end of the street and the poetry saw a skinny cat disappear into a yard and I
am no question whispered the poetry
and looked up at the centennial cliff
I am the poetry said the poetry am a poem and tiptoed naked into the final words of the meeting in ballet-shoes and the poetry walked barefoot from the meeting and asked the ballet-shoes to come along
the poets remained
but the poetry left giggling
white ballet-shoes were seen impulsively climbing the cliff
we must have another meeting the poets said poesilessly
and check about this state of poetry thing added the literary scholars helpfully
(but) the poetry travelled by speed of light naked in yellow shoes with diver’s goggles and gregorian music in its walkman and a parachute in the other pocket,
went where it wanted to do what it wanted
… I should be banned I should be banned the poetry sang heartily.
Translated by Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl